Japan Strengthens Energy Ties to Central Asia

In both Washington and Tokyo, U.S. policymakers seem to have lost sight of the big story now unfolding in Asia's energy marketplace: Energy resource-poor Japan is revving up its diplomatic drive to strengthen relations with the oil- and gas-rich countries of Central Asia in a bid to ensure its energy security amid stubbornly high oil prices.

Japan invited foreign ministers of Central Asian nations to talks in early June. And in a more significant move that highlights how passionately Japan is wooing the Central Asian nations, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who steps down in late September, will visit the region at the end of this month, becoming the first Japanese premier to do so. Koizumi will visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to discuss with their leaders -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov -- economic cooperation, anti-terrorism measures and cultural and personnel exchanges.

Japan's energized diplomatic drive in Central Asia comes at a time when Tokyo is implementing a new energy strategy aimed at ensuring stable oil, gas and other resource supplies in the long term to feed the world's second-largest economy. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry released its new national energy strategy at the end of May. It calls for, among other things, strengthening ties with resource-rich countries through such measures as free-trade agreements, promoting nuclear energy, and securing energy resources abroad through the fostering of more powerful energy companies.

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